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Environment

Caracas peak blazes for third day in drought

CARACAS (Reuters) - A blaze raged on the Avila mountain over Caracas for a third day on Tuesday, threatening wildlife in its national park and sending smoke billowing over the upper reaches of the Venezuelan capital.

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Since the weekend, the fire has lit up the night sky and consumed nearly 120 hectares (300 acres) of the Avila’s thickly wooded slopes, which are home to more than 120 mammal species and 500 types of bird.

The authorities said some 200 firemen, police and volunteers had been battling the flames, which have been fanned by strong winds and the heat caused by a severe drought.

Civil Protection director Luis Diaz Curbelo said they had thought they had the blaze under control.

“But during the day the heat and the breeze mean that any spot still alight can set off the blaze again, and that’s what happened yesterday,” he told reporters.

Venezuela has been badly hit by a prolonged dry spell that has reduced water levels in its hydroelectric dams to critical levels and triggered the nation’s worst electricity crisis.

Diaz Curbelo, however, did not rule out arson.

“It was strange that it began above the firebreak and in two areas simultaneously,” he said.

The Avila, a 8,990-foot (2,765-meter) mountain that towers over Caracas and separates the city from the Caribbean to the north, is the capital’s most recognizable symbol.

But several fires over the past few months have seen emergency helicopters dumping water onto the mountain, and the combination of a heatwave and the blazes has left a hazy fog shrouding the city for weeks at a time.

Popular with hikers and bird watchers, the Avila boasts almost 90,000 hectares of protected tropical forest.

President Hugo Chavez renamed the park Waraira Repano in October 2007 after the mountain’s indigenous name.

Writing by Charlie Devereux, editing by Daniel Wallis

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